Over the weekend, Africa’s first Olympic gold medalist in the field event, Chioma Ajunwa, celebrated the 25th anniversary of her golden jump with an elaborate event to launch her N6billion sports facility centre via her Chioma Ajunwa Foundation. In the presence of lots of dignitaries, Ajunwa made the pledge to use the facility to get people off the streets and produce more champions.
Ajunwa has been a history-maker in Nigeria. She is the only person, male or female, to have represented the country at the highest level in two sports. She was a member of the Super Falcons to the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in China in 1991. After impressing in football, she moved on to athletics where she took the nation by storm, breaking the then African record by running 10.84 seconds (albeit not a legal time). Though an excellent sprinter, Ajunwa would come to fame at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics where she defeated a pool of world- class athletes to win Nigeria’s first ever Olympic gold medal. Since that time, Ajunwa has had a string of honours nationally and she has continuously given back to the sports of athletics with philanthropic actions.
Speaking at the event, Chioma Ajunwa-Opara, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), reeled out three sports namely; athletics, football and taekwondo as the core area of focus for the foundation for now.
“The Olympic Talent Hunt is for girls between the aged between 10 and 17 years in these three sports. I have not seen any ex-international in Nigeria thinking about having his or her sports facilities to enable upcoming athletes to benefit from them. That is what is motivating me. I have to build a hostel at Meiran, (in Lagos) where girls camp. We want to make the Chioma Ajunwa-Opara Foundation a reference point in Nigeria’s sports development,” she stressed with emphasis.
Chioma Ajunwa believes in helping others. She professes that she is a beneficiary of philanthropy. She attributed her successes in sports to the management team of former Nigerian football great, Chief Segun Odegbami. She insisted that without Odegbami’s help, she would achieve nothing and for this she hopes to help as many people as possible through her foundation.
Ajunwa has helped support Under-16 football tournament and supported youth sports in general. She insists her foundation would not support only athletics but taekwondo and football too. But her work has been most impressive in the education of sportsmen (and women) against the scourge of doping. Being a victim of ignorance herself, Ajunwa has held lots of clinics to educate athletes against the dangers of doping.
Ajunwa’s performance and actions have been a blessing to the country. Born on Christmas Day in 1970, she indeed came as one of a twin of blessing that day to Nigeria. Another superstar, Emmanuel Amuneke, was born that same day in the same state, Imo State to Nigeria and they have had similarities is careers. Apart from their date of birth and state, they both represented Nigeria in her first World Cup debut in both the men and women’s categories. Amuneke was in Nigeria’s maiden World Cup appearance of 1994 while Chioma made the cut at Nigeria’s maiden women’s World Cup in 1991. Both were members of the Nigerian contingent to the Olympics in 1996. They both won gold medals. Ajunwa with her golden long jump leap and Amuneke scoring the winning gold medal goal that gave the Olympic Eagles victory over Argentina.
Amongst the dignitaries that graced Ajunwa’s launch of her sports facility centre event included Chief Odegbami who managed Ajunwa to the Atlanta ‘96 Olympic gold medal. Odegbami revealed that it was sheer determination and passion on the part of the athlete (Chioma Ajunwa) that gave Nigeria the gold. While endorsing all that the foundation has set out to achieve, Odegbami said such uncommon valour are difficult to find amongst the current generation of Nigerian athletes. Also, Access Lagos City Marathon General Manager and National Long Jump record holder, Yussuf Alli, praised Ajunwa and recognised her talent, stressing that she even had the capacity to jump further after winning the gold.
Former African Track Queen, Mary Onyali, who represented the Minister of Sports at the event, recalled the good days when her rivalry with Ajunwa was fierce but friendly and enjoined all to support the project.
Ajunwa has grown in personality over the years, a senior police officer now. She has been award the national title MON and numerous chieftaincy titles. But alas, the hand of charity to help young athletes would be her biggest title yet, comparable with her winning the Olympic Gold.